At a time when D.C. United needed help scoring goals Saturday night, Alecko Eskandarian rose to the challenge and scored a pair of beautiful goals to give United their most convincing victory of the season. Just when it looked like D.C. United would be forced to hold on to a precarious one-goal lead, Eskandarian imposed his will on the match with a pair of spectacular goals that all but secured a 3-1 win for United against Columbus.
D.C. United entered this weekend's match against Columbus in a bit of a skid. D.C. had only earned one victory in their previous five matches. United had gone scoreless for nearly three straight games. Their only goal in the previous three matches was an own goal against New England. In the match prior to the one in New England, the team's only goal came from midfielder Josh Gros. The strikers for D.C. hadn't scored since Freddy Adu's goal of the week on May 19 - exactly one month before this Saturday's game against the Crew. In addition to the scoring drought, Earnie Stewart, Bobby Convey and Ryan Nelsen were all unavailable for the match. Finally, Columbus came into RFK Stadium riding a seven-game unbeaten streak. United didn't pay much attention to all the obstacles standing in their way.
Most of the soccer world has been focusing on Portugal for the past week or so and the Euro 2004 tournament. The world's greatest players have been on display scoring sensational goals. Eskandarian's goals versus Columbus were both as good as any goal you'll see in Europe.
His first strike came after a series of quick one touch passes. Eskandarian started the play with a short pass to Dema Kovalenko. Kovalenko one-touched a pass to Jaime Moreno, who played it back to Eskandarian, who crushed a left footed volley into the far side netting. At the time of this goal, it looked like Eskandarian would surely earn the Sierra Mist Goal of the Week, but only 12 minutes later, his second goal became a likely candidate for the same award.
D.C. United had a free kick about 22 yards away from the goal just moments before halftime. Last season, a D.C. United free kick in scoring range usually was an opportunity for Marco Etcheverry or Hristo Stoitchkov. Without those two obvious choices, it seemed like the best option for D.C. was to play a cross into the box. Instead, Eskandarian stepped up to the ball with the confidence of Zinedine Zidane, David Beckam or Roberto Carlos and curled a shot over the wall and into the goal. The goal mere seconds away from the intermission all but sealed the victory for D.C. and gave Eskandarian his second career multi-goal game for United - both of which have come against the Columbus Crew.
The performance by Eskandarian was very important for a number of reasons. First, it provided a much-needed victory for the team. Also, Eskandarian hadn't played in recent weeks as he was hampered by an injury. His return to the starting line-up and the pair of goals will surely send his confidence through the roof. But the most comforting aspect of his game is that he made the most of his opportunity.
Coach Peter Nowak could have elected to start Adu in Eskandarian's place, but Eskandarian made his coach look like a genius for putting him in the first 11.
In the game's final minute, with D.C. United leading 3-0, Manny Lagos scored a goal to cut the lead to two. There was no chance for a Columbus comeback and Troy Perkins was slightly disappointed to have lost his shutout, but the Crew's goal in effect told the story for the match as Alecko Eskandarian was rewarded with the game-winning goal.
When the game was over United players made a point of applauding the efforts of the crowd at RFK. D.C. hadn't won at home since the game against Kansas City on May 15. The response of the players on Saturday seemed to send a message to the crowd, something to the extent of, "Thanks for your great support all year - we finally gave you a result you deserve. Get used to us playing this way at home."